• The IWSc has a strategy of life-long learning.
• It is changing its emphasis from scientific to technological expertise.
• The IWSc conference takes place in Bath on September 18-19.
• It will focus on the juxtaposition of traditional timber construction with 21st century requirements.

There is no doubt that Institute of Wood Science (IWSc) director Duncan King is ready for a challenge.

When he took up the reins at the end of last year the growing relevance of wood as the most sustainable of construction materials promised to provide a strong platform for the promotion of this respected centre of learning.

Now with the economic climate becoming increasingly difficult for the construction industry, marketing the education and training offered by the IWSc looks a little more challenging. But his sights remain firmly set on securing the future of the IWSc as the country’s leading provider of learning for the timber industry and its clients.

His key objective over the next two years is to position the IWSc firmly as relevant and responsive to the need for an increased understanding of wood as the sustainable building material of choice. And the emphasis of the strategy is on “life-long learning” – regular training to keep up with technological advances in this dynamic sector.

Since he was appointed to the director’s role in December, Mr King’s focus has been on the development of a strategy to drive market development; stimulate membership recruitment and increase course take-up.

Certainly the government’s stated commitment to plugging the skills gaps provides a good platform for marketing the Institute’s range of education and training solutions, such as its “Learn while you work” approach. The Leitch Report stressed the need for “upskilling” as the key to unlocking the potential of employees across industry for creating wealth and higher productivity. The report also stressed the pivotal role that increased skills can play in competitiveness, a critical factor in a difficult economic climate.

Changing times

Improving the understanding of how wood behaves in its various service environments lies at the heart of the Institute’s terms of reference. The timber business world has changed beyond recognition since the IWSc was established over 50 years ago, with many traditional timber traders having been taken over by large builders merchants; panel product manufacture increased in diversity and volume; new wood products in the market and technologically advanced treatments and coatings.

“In a changing and more diversified sector, the need for training and education is more crucial than ever,” said Mr King. “There is an increasing number of new wood-based products hitting the market and to make best use of these an individual must have the basic knowledge of wood as a material – how it behaves, what causes changes to its behaviour and how it reacts with other materials. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, it is impossible to make best use of the new timber products coming on stream and to comply with the requirement for fitness for purpose criteria. And as the industry moves on, so does the need for refresher training – the basis of our life-long learning approach.”

Forward-thinking initiatives such as the UKWoodchain have begun to tackle the skills gap by fostering skill and knowledge development and encouraging the take-up of relevant and practical qualifications for employees involved in the making and trading of wood materials and products. The Institute is a partner of UKWoodchain and, through this channel, it’s becoming increasingly synonymous with high quality education in timber technology.

Key objective

One of the key objectives for Duncan King is to position the Institute as absolutely relevant to the education and training needs of timber traders, builders merchants and product manufacturers.

Through strong brand positioning, supported by effective marketing and public relations activity, he plans to make the IWSc accessible and engaging and raise its profile throughout the sector.

Its secure future lies, of course, in increasing membership and steady sales of its educational courses. And initiatives such as the revamping of its WoodFocus magazine and a change of emphasis to technological rather than scientific expertise reflect a business-led approach.

“We must communicate that the IWSc is relevant, accessible and available for the practical training and education that people in our industry need and want. Our name may sound academic but our approach is practical, both in terms of the courses we offer and our ‘learn while you work’ approach,” said Mr King.

Both IWSc certificate and foundation courses offer practical training, and courses are flexible so that they can be matched to individuals’ needs, with the option of picking and choosing those units which are relevant. Both courses provide a natural progression in a company training programme and a direct entry to new degree courses soon to be offered by higher education establishments.

Conference theme

This year’s IWSc conference theme of “Traditional into Modern” pretty much captures the Institute’s commitment to keeping pace with the changing and dynamic timber industry.

Taking place at Bath University on September 18-19, it looks set to deliver some new ideas and fresh thinking, with a line-up of speakers from both the design and timber construction sectors.

The conference programme will focus on the juxtaposition of traditional timber construction with the 21st century requirement for this adaptable, versatile and most sustainable material, in what some experts are calling The New Wood Age.

The line-up of speakers includes Buro Happold’s Jon Shanks, talking about engineering of traditional oak construction, Joao Custódio of Lisbon’s National Laboratory of Civil Engineering on the repair of heritage timber structures and Nick Milestone of B&K Timber Structures on hybrid timber construction.

Oakwrights’ Bill Keir is presenting on traditional oak frame construction and there will be case studies on a Grand Designs featured house by German housebuilder Baufritz, and Glenn Howells’ award-winning Savill Building in Windsor Great Park.